As a born-and-bred Malaysian who’s never really explored anywhere outside the capital, sometimes it’s easy to forget that my home country is one of the most visited countries in the world, thanks to our diverse cultures, tropical rainforests and awesome food (political dramas notwithstanding). Few realise that Malaysia’s been highly listed on Lonely Planet and Forbes, in addition to countless other websites and leading authorities in international travel.
Hence, this article is written not only for curious foreigners who may or may not have been to Malaysia, but also for my fellow countrymen who probably do not realise the amazing destinations to visit right here within our borders. Do note that the below are not arranged from best to worst, as I these places are very different from one another and you can easily visit them all without feeling the slightest hint of boredom or repetition – provided you have the cash, of course!
Without further adieu, I proudly present my list of Top Five Tourist Destinations in Malaysia:
1. KUALA LUMPUR AND SURROUNDING AREAS
In case you didn’t already know, Kuala Lumpur is the pride and joy of the country as the Capital of Malaysia. Spanning nearly 250 sq km (95 sq mi) with a bustling population of about 2 million, the city is a massive amalgamation of the various races, cultures, traditions and food in the country. It is set to be the 10th most visited city in the world, according to Forbes.
Food enthusiasts will appreciate places like Petaling Street (also known as Chinatown) and the Bukit Bintang area as they are packed with some of the best Malaysian food stalls around. Must-try foods are Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, Hokkien Mee, Popiah, Wantan Mee, Air Batu Campur (or ABC), Ramly Burger, Curry Mee, Mee Mamak, Rendang Ayam, Chicken Rice and Char Koay Teow (stir-fried flat noodles).
Kuala Lumpur is also home to various shopping malls such as Mid Valley Megamall (6th largest shopping mall in the world), Suria KLCC, Pavillion/Lot 10/Sungai Wang Plaza/Low Yat Plaza/Berjaya Times Square (all located in the Bukit Bintang area); as well as 1 Utama (4th largest) and Sunway Pyramid(9th largest) located slightly outside Kuala Lumpur. If you’ve ever wanted to buy anything from Malaysia, here’s the place to do it. Oh, and fun fact: Our shopping malls close at 9pm, unlike in many other countries where life stops at 5pm. Remember to bring your credit cards.
To the more adventurous, I would highly recommend visiting the night markets (or “pasar malam”, as they are locally known) as these places are FILLED with great-tasting Malaysian food stalls, as well as a *very* wide variety of goods such as toys, clothes, shoes, fruits and ornaments.
And of course, no visit to Malaysia is ever complete without visiting the Petronas Twin Towers, KLCC. The Skybridge and Observation Deck is open to the public from 9am – 9pm, Tuesday to Sunday at RM80 per adult (about 25 USD).
2. PERHENTIAN ISLANDS
Malaysia is home to some of the most beautiful snorkeling and diving spots in the world. I’ll highlight the Perhentian Islands (loosely referred to simply as “Perhentian”) as in my opinion, they have a nice balance between snorkeling and diving spots, minimal yet sufficient development and generally have lesser visitors due to the longer travelling distance from Kuala Lumpur; all of which translate into a perfect island getaway for tourists.
Perhentian (pronounced per-hen-ti-an, loosely translated from Malay as “a place to stop“) consists of two islands: Perhentian Besar (literally: big place to stop) and Perhentian Kecil (small place to stop). Both islands have many snorkeling spots, and the locals regularly organise bi-hourly trips to these locations for a small fee.
There are a number of diving centres such as Flora Bay Divers, Universal Diver and Watercolours World which offer first-time dive lessons and PADI certification in addition to normal diving sessions, so you don’t have to worry about not having any previous diving experience.
If you’re lucky, you may even be able to swim with the turtles in Perhentian. Unfortunately, the turtle population has been struggling to survive in Perhentian, so if you can, please help them by joining in the sea turtle conservation project Help Our Penyu.
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3. TAMAN NEGARA
4. LANGKAWI ISLAND
5. GUNUNG MULU NATIONAL PARK